Piglets, Pizza and Pillowcases!

Dear Parents and Friends,

What a great day here and I can’t believe it’s gone so fast this week.  Isn’t that how it works.  When you’re having fun things tend to speed up and go too fast.  We held sign-ups this morning and every single activity you could think of was up and running.  We also had several trips out today including climbers that went to climb the classic Sundial on the Nose area of Looking Glass Rock.  The Nose area has several great climbs and our climbers took no time in getting to the base of the rock this morning and having the climb to themselves.  One other privately guided group was there and our campers had their rock manners turned on.  The private guides thanked us for our rock site management and decorum while there.  Climbing is not a boisterous sport and many groups yell and talk loudly while waiting to climb.  Our climbing staff engage our campers and actually teach them how to belay with a counselor backup so up to three people are involved in each climb including the climber.  It’s a focused, involved and fun situation.

Our bikers were out today as well and traveled to Pisgah National Forest to ride some single track there.   Mountain biking is such a natural for us here at camp.  We have over 3 miles of single track trails for the campers to train on.  More miles of trails are being established in our area each year.

The biggest news of the day was of course news from the farm.  You guessed it, 12 little piglets were born last night just after midnight.  And it just so happens that our camp doctor and two nurses were there with Farmer Jacob to assist and witness the birth.  I think they helped with tying off some of umbilical cords and making sure everyone was happy when they arrived at their new home.  Your camper will may want to take you to the farm tomorrow so be prepared.

The afternoon was filled with packing and of course pillowcase day where everyone goes to the pool and takes their pillowcase along.  You get it wet and fill it with air – voilà, you have a floatation device.  It was the perfect day to be at the pool and everyone enjoyed their last swim.  Along with pillowcase day is our traditional last meal of pizza and of course a delicious dessert of brownies.  All the pizza was hand made as well as the crust.  Some campers had treats early today at the mill, where they made Johnny Cakes in the morning.  Eating is a highlight here at every meal.  We spend time together at the table and don’t just eat and run.  There’s always time for good conversation and finding out what people are doing as the day progresses and as camper return from their many adventures.

Tonight during the meal we got a nice shower that cooled things down for after supper activities. That time of the day is always wonderful and a nice time to wind down before campfire.  Friendship campfire included Anne and me presenting blankets and plaques to our 4 & 5 year campers.  There were a lot of them and we also recognized our campers who had been there for up to 10 years.  Several staff even go beyond the 10 year mark because they started as campers.  Our Fine Arts activity put on Peter Pan tonight with a camp twist.  It was great and you will no doubt hear a song from tonight’s production at tomorrow’s campfire.  We concluded with a video which is up on line or you can go to the link listed here.  We also showed some our pictures taken throughout the session which added to the culmination of two wonderful weeks.

B Session Highlight Reel

As you arrive tomorrow friendship circles will be in each cabin at 10:30 unless you’re on Mountainside and Riverside and they will conduct their campfire for parents at the same time.  Our final campfire for Main Camp will be at 11:00 in the Lodge and your welcome to stay and have some delicious GV farm food at 12:00.  See you tomorrow!

Happy Birthday Tajar!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Another great day at camp with sunny hot weather!  Today we awoke to some major mischief from the Tajar who moved tables outside and put Debbie on the roof along with kayaks and paddles.  He was excited in anticipation of Tajar Ball.  We had a long distance thunder boomer just during dinner tonight but it passed without chasing us indoors for our Tajar Ball Picnic and Carnival.  We had dinner outdoors and it was a fun filled evening.  More on that later.

I’m so glad we’re in the mountains and it’s the perfect spot to venture out onto our property as well as all the beautiful spots around us.  Even on the many hot days we’ve had this session the shade we have really cools things down which makes a big difference.  Of course our waterfront is very popular all day long.  For years we’ve had complaints about our pool being too cold and that was true especially at the beginning sessions of the summer.  Last summer I decided to do something about it and purchased a pool cover to put on at night when you lose most of the heat you’ve gained during the day.  Our pool is never going to be that warm but it’s refreshing and is not nearly as cold as it was a couple of years ago.  We do need some rain for our grass and crops at this point.

Today was the perfect program day as we wind down the week.  Some of our expert horseback riders took two hours and went over to the Hunt Farm to ride in the open fields over there.  It’s a nice backdrop and is good for letting the horses move a bit faster than on the trails around camp.  I spent the morning visiting many activities in the center of camp taking pictures and shooting video.  I checked in on the Mill, all the Arts & Crafts, Pottery, Sports and Waterfront.  The day was filled with more new experiences for many children and revisiting some activities for many others.

Mountainside and Riverside returned today from their adventures and all is well.  Most groups were back by Tajar Ball time and enjoyed the cookout, games and carnival on the soccer field.  From all indications trips went very well and you’ll get a full report on closing day.  Coming back to camp after several days in the woods is always fun.  I’m not sure it all sinks in until after you leave to go home.  Sometimes I think for some of our older campers their experience and the processing of that experience really begins when they return home.  We hope that some of what we do as a community for one another rubs off and that your campers bring some of camp home.  Rituals like clearing the table, declaring a rose, bud and thorn for the day, sharing, and being kind to new people we meet are all part of camp life and more.  We also have a lot of fun here and I hope that our campers take some of that home as well.  Our values are simple and our approach to outdoor education is based on the hope of self-realization and personal development.  These teachable moments are all around at camp and especially out in the field where these young people just returned from their adventures.  Some more Main Camp campers will be venturing out again tomorrow to rock climb at Looking Glass and also bike at Dupont State Forest.  Looking Glass is a huge rock dome located just off 276 in Pisgah National Forest.  When you’re on most of the climbs on the Glass it feels like you have the heavens and horizon in your hands.  Sky and earth are vast as one looks out for miles at nothing but layered green rolling mountains in all directions.

We do have guidelines (rules) at camp for our activities and the last one listed for all these is HAVE FUN!  Fun was the first order of business this evening and as you may or may not know, everyone comes to the Tajar Ball in masquerade.  There are a host of characters and it’s a time to play, dance, eat and try all kinds of games.  Traditionally we have a cookout with burgers and dogs with all the trimmings and watermelon.  After everyone has eaten, it’s off to the soccer field to try your hand at a multitude of games and carnival like events to participate in.  There’s ice cream, cookies and music if you want to dance and play games at the same time.  We play the Macarena at the end of the Tajar Ball and we must have had 90% of camp out there to dance and close things down.  It’s a good way to celebrate the next to last night of camp.  Tomorrow night is friendship campfire when we all gather and remember the great times from B Session.  We’ll certainly have a recap for you all on Friday so hope you can stay for the Parent/Camper Campfire starting at 11:00 on Friday morning.  Stayed tuned!

Rocks, Roots and Kiwi’s!

Dear Parents & Friends,

I spent a good portion of my day with the Mountain Bikers in Dupont riding just over 9 miles of single track.  It was an all male group that left under drizzly and humid skies this morning.   Arriving at Dupont we started at Reasonover Creek out of Fawn Lake parking area.  The descent down to the creek was a bit slippery but everyone held their line in getting down and then it was back up over roots and rocks to the top of Turkey Knob.  From there it was over to Lake Julia and then on to Bridal Veil Falls where we lunched and also walked to the top of the falls.  Bridal Veil has had two semi recent movies filmed there at the spot where we lunched: The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans.  By the time we arrived at Bridal Veil the skies were sunny with just passing clouds.

Everyone wanted to swim and they also wanted to ride some downhill so we pushed on up hill after lunch to the Airstrip Trail and descended down to Shelter Rock where it climbs very quickly back to the top of Laurel Ridge.  The Airstrip Trail starts at a real airstrip that was built years ago but now is inactive.  The photo you see inside this update is at the end of the old runway looking out toward Pisgah National Forest.  From the Laurel Ridge, Corn Mill Shoals trail is a steady slick-rock rooty climb.  I would say it’s one of the hardest climbs in Dupont.  Everyone attempted and rode parts of it but it eventually took its toll.  From there it was on to Fawn Lake to swim for a while and then out to meet our pickup.  In our nine miles of riding we ascended around 1120 feet and descended just shy of that number. I’ve thrown in our profile sheet to take a look at the ride we did today.

Airstrip biking

B session Biking 2016

Tonights dinner was to celebrate New Zealand and it was International Day at camp recognizing Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Kiwi’s.  We started off the morning with William Wallace of Braveheart fame, coming down from the Highlands to give his famous speech.  Callum did a fabulous job as he rattled off word for word the lines from the scene in the movie where they are outnumbered and ready to turn and run.  Campfire tonight brought together many of the Commonwealth countries  to add to the festivities.  There were songs, skits and stories all performed by campers.  Everything from the Loch Ness Monster to children’s songs and dances were presented.

While in Dupont today we caught a quick glimpse of the Mountainside Bikers but they quickly rode off into the distance.  They didn’t recognize our small group of 6 plus staff.  With just a couple of days of camp left we look forward to Mountainside and Riverside coming back to tell stories of adventure and camping under the stars.  I will be in camp all day tomorrow and look forward to providing you a  more full report of a typical GV day.  Stay tuned!

Finally….. a Little Rain, Longest Day and Bellyaks!

Dear Parents & Friends,

I write as campfire is concluding right outside my window.  Six cabins are on a campout tonight so we have a pretty small camp gathered around the fire in the field.  We’re actually celebrating a late Summer Solstice which is the longest day of the year.  That was of course around the 20th of the month.  It’s never too late at camp.  There was a play put on by the Fine Arts group that acted out a Cherokee Legend about the animals of the forest.  Debbie played some music on her melodica or pianica.  I told a story about the Kanasta tribe who lived near camp.  If you look at the picture in this blog you will see a pointed mountain right in the middle of the pic.  That’s called Pilot Mtn. and was where the lost tribe lived.  Nature class did a skit as well and then our Head Counselors, Daniel and Molly read the Lorax.

Solstice campfire

We finally got some rainfall today but not enough to quinch the great thirst our land is having.  No activities were cancelled and no thunderstorms near camp. Main Camp kayakers went to the Green River today and had a wonderful time.  Nature went on a hike near the Fish Hatchery and spent some time at the Hatchery itself learning more about our native fish.  Mountain Bikers will be going out tomorrow and another kayaking group will be out tomorrow as well.  Climbers will hit the forest on Thurs.  Keep in mind these are all Main Camp campers.

We had sign-ups this morning and in the afternoon and so everyone got to choose what they wanted to do all day long.  One of our staff has a connection with a company called Bellyak which is kayak you lie down on or can sit on or can kneel on.  We have their demo fleet for a few days and are exploring with them on our lake.  I think campers really enjoyed paddling them with their hands.  By the way, you don’t use a paddle, they are hand powered.  Definitely a different way to access the river!  Blacksmithing combined with candles today for a two hour event.  One hour you made a candle holder and the other you made candles to go in the holder.  After an hour each group switched so you came away with a double bonus.

I love the simple skills of working with our hands and our imaginations.  Camp is so good for us in so many ways.  We work on projects and performs skills that may not be possible anywhere else.  Outdoor sports provide different ways to use our bodies and coordination to reach an end goal like a hard move on rock, running a class two rapid with a partner, negotiating a rock garden while biking or simply carrying everything you need on your back for several days.

We also try to emphasize team play here while holding competition to a minimum.  We all play for a team in some way or another; a work team, a project team, a surgical team, and you’ve got to become a vital part of that team to succeed.  Camp teaches you to live in a cabin as a team, eat at the table as a team, share food as a team after hiking 10 miles with a backpack through the rain, and carry those boats to load on the trailer after an exhilarating and hard day on the river.  Phil Jackson, NBA coach once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member.  The strength of each member is the team”.

Some campers learn by observance, watching a touch on the soccer ball, a behind the back dribble, or just keeping your heels down when trying to smear your climbing shoe on a steep piece of rock.  We learn to predict (think about) our movements before we execute them (move) so that we control them better (Flanagan, Vetter, Johansson, & Wolpert, 2003). This ability suggests that all motor activity is preceded by quick thought processes that set goals, analyze variables, predict outcomes, and execute movements. Pulling this off requires widespread connections to all sensory areas and culminates in the brain’s cerebellum, which controls balance, movement and coordination. “  Others have to have that coach or counselor to help them through those steps and again practice until confident on their own.  And some may never get to that skill set, so we have to figure out what skills that child does have.  One camper may be able to climb like a monkey on the wall but is deathly afraid of heights 20 feet off the ground.  Another camper may flail on the wall but slowly makes it to the top.  They both have much to learn and through trial and error, they can see one another gaining more skills as they try for new levels of achievement each time.

The good news is that movement, is good for mind, body and soul.  People who exercise their bodies and minds have far more cortical mass than those who don’t. Simple biology supports an obvious link between movement and learning. Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain.  We all benefit from play and creative play!

Camp is a great place where failure or feeling like a loser most always leads to success because we can try again and again.  Gwynn Valley is a trusting environment where we achieve growth in our activities under the guidance of a mature and caring staff.  That is what we do best with a constant eye on those playing on the fields, out in the field, or just around camp. We make sure that camp includes all levels of fair play and in the end we all win.  Stay tuned!

Special Day for B Session!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It was Special Day at GV and it was just that.  We got a little extra sleep in this morning so breakfast was pushed back to 9:00 which meant everyone got an extra 30 minutes to sleep in.  Every little bit helps because camp is so busy.  We also had a little extra rest hour today which is always great.  To back up a bit we had a great pancake breakfast complete with fresh fruit and a delicious from scratch peach compote which our chef Megan made for the pancakes.  Bacon, orange juice and cereal topped everything off.  Sunday’s are days when our activity leaders have the day off so we plan a camp wide game that everyone participates in.  Today’s theme was Super Hero’s and a few villains thrown in for good measure.  Appearing throughout the day at various stations was: Catwoman, The Riddler, Spiderman, Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Batman, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Thor, Loki, The Hulk, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, Superman, Mrs. Incredible and Captain America.

There was a total of 10 different stations that campers went to during the morning and afternoon with lunch and rest hour in between.  Each station had challenges and some were wetter than others.  It was another great day to get wet and beat the heat here at camp.  Most of the activities were in the shade but even the shade needed help from the waterfront to cool things down.  Lunch today was Sloopy Joes sweet potato fries, salad and fruit with homemade buns for the Joes.

We slowed things down a bit after dinner tonight with our Vespers Service and call it an early evening to get us started on the right track for our last week of camp.  We had a wonderful dinner of pasta primavera, beans, carrots, and salad from the garden and our first corn on the cob from the farm.   There were some tired campers at Vespers service tonight.  Our theme was the “Simple Joys” and several cabins and individuals chipped in.  The boys from Aching Legs helped me with a skit about staying positive and shaking off the baggage that we sometimes carry in life.

It’s been a full week and a full day.  What’s better is there’s more to come.  Tomorrow Mountainside leaves for their adventures and our main camp children will be going off site for biking, paddling and climbing.  Riverside left for their last component of their three weeks here.  They will be hiking the Appalachian Trail near Roan Mountain.  It should be a fun and productive week for all of camp.  You might say it will be the icing on the cake.  Stay tuned as we get into our last week of B session!

PS    Photos from yesterday are still loading so expect to see lots of photos tomorrow.  Sorry for the delay

New Tables, Great Views and Tree Climbing!

Dear Parents & Friends,

As I begin tonight’s writing I’m hearing out my window the first cicada of the summer.  Soon more and more will be chiming in and yet another great sound to add to our outdoor world collection.  Several cabins are camping out tonight.  Brooksider’s were invited up to Mountainside for an evening of interaction with them to learn more about their program.  Hillsider’s were in the Lodge with me and Debbie for a bit of Mountain Dancing.  We all worked up a sweat dancing to Sasha (a Russian Folkdance), Going to Kentucky, Bluebird and The Hokey Pokey.

As I walked back from the Lodge several cabins were taking in the view that we have looking out from the office. Our elevation here at camp is about 2250 feet and we look out and up to over 6000’.  It’s a nice time of day to be winding down and taking in our valley.  Today was another hot and sunny day with many folks deciding that the waterfront was an excellent choice for afternoon sign-ups.  Today was the last day of Discovery and many projects were being completed and coming to an end.  You will see the evidence of some great arts and crafts at the end of next week.  Blacksmithing has touched the lives of many children this session and even Mountainside and Riverside have had some time at Smithy’s shop next to cool Carson Creek on Mountainside.  I was there today to shoot some video of Mountainside working on some projects.  We only have Scotty for B session this summer and what a treat it’s been to offer his talents to the campers.  They’ve thoroughly enjoyed the activity and his teaching. I’m sure he will be back next summer.

I want to mention that our photographers are off this evening and I noticed that more photos will be loading throughout the night.  We’ve been having some trouble with our online connection so if more don’t appear, they will be up tomorrow.

Several activities are getting ready for next week’s off camp trips including, mountain biking, kayaking and rock climbing.  Each group from Main Camp and mostly Brooksider’s will be going to Dupont for biking, the Green River for kayaking, and Looking Glass Rock for climbing.  Campers are getting excited for the Monday, Tues., and Thur.s trips out of camp.  It’s always a highlight to provide that next level experience for those who have shown great interest and have improved on their skills to venture farther from the nest.

Today was a second day of Arborist climbing here at camp.  It’s one of my favorite activities where campers don’t actually climb on the tree but ascend ropes connected to the tree.  It’s the same method that a tree arborist uses to carefully and safely, without harm to the tree, get up in them to make sure they are healthy.  It’s a fairly strenuous workout but is like nothing else we do here.  You don’t have climbing holds or a wall or tree limbs to hold on to.  You do have a belayer and your own strength and determination to get up there and into the tree.  Our two arborist trees are right next to Cabins Playhouse and Mountain View.

Mountainside learned what adventures they were going on today and will be heading out on Monday.  We have a great staff up there with super leadership.  I wish my own children hadn’t aged out of that program because I’d love to have the staff as their mentors and role models.  It’s all about the staff and the role they play while your children are here at camp.  We held open house today and yesterday for many cabins and that is when two of our leaders go into cabins and talk with the campers about their experience when counselors aren’t there.  I visited Meadowbrook and Summerset today.  It’s basically to provide us with information as to what kind of job the counselors are doing.  Everything at camp starts in the cabin and works outward to program.

We will be changing tables tomorrow.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my table this session.   We’ll all get new campers and staff at our tables for the remainder of the session.  It’s good to change tables and meet new people .  It stretches us in making new friends and being in new social situations.  A table group takes part in a ritual that is probably one of the most important things we do in the course of day and that is sharing food.  Sharing food is good for the body and the soul.  Sharing good Gwynn Valley food certainly makes life brighter.  A good recipe is enhanced more by good company.  Stay tuned as we take on new and exciting things each day!

PS  We’ve uploaded another short video as part of this post.  Hopefully your connection is stronger than ours.

Servant Leadership

Dear Families & Friends,

It has been another sunny, gorgeous day here at Gwynn Valley! Campers were busy outside today making the most of every ray of sunshine. This morning marked the 3rd session of A day discoveries, which means that campers have now visited those areas for 3 mornings this week. Returning to an activity over and over as we do in the mornings allows campers to dive more deeply into the activities, focus on skill development, and finish more intricate projects.

This afternoon during sign ups, the waterfront activities were very popular! Almost every camper was in the water for some portion of the afternoon. Even our campers at the farm wrapped up their afternoon by wading in the creek to cool off. Despite the heat, the blacksmith forge was also a popular location for campers. I saw a few camper-made candlestick holders today which look incredible. Also popular this afternoon was a game run by Camping Skills & Nature called Camouflage. Camouflage is a variation of capture the flag played in the shady forest between Pioneer 1 and Pioneer 2 campout shelters, and campers just cannot get enough of it.

Although we teach a lot of hard skills here at Gwynn Valley, a lot of real work we do is kind of nebulous and behind the scenes. Take climbing for example. On the surface, our climbing staff are at the tower teaching campers how to tie a figure eight follow through, how to do a safety check with their belay partner before leaving the ground, and how to climb to the top of the tower 50 feet off the ground. On a deeper level, what we are really teaching them is how to trust, how to pay attention to the details that matter, how to persevere in the face of challenge or adversity. We hope that every camper has fun and enjoys climbing in the moment, and if we turn out a few world class climbers that would be the icing on the cake! But 5, 10 or 20 years from now, we hope what really sticks with these future adults are the lessons behind the lessons. We hope they remember how to trust other people. We hope they remember how to hone in on the details that matter and let go of the rest. We hope that they remember that failure on a first attempt is a learning opportunity and a launch pad for reaching their goals.

This summer Gwynn Valley created a new program for campers finishing 9th grade called Young Leaders. For years the 9th grade summer was the dreaded ‘gap year’ for our campers, and after much demand, we have developed a program that will help fill that gap and help them transition gracefully out of their time as campers. After being a Young Leader, we hope that they will come back as Staff in Training (SITs) or cabin counselors, but the leadership skills we are working to develop in our Young Leaders will serve them anywhere. All session the young leaders have been exploring the concept of leadership through various lenses: individual leadership styles, outdoor adventure as a tool for leadership development, gender & leadership, leadership with children vs. peers, etc. And of course they have been having lots of fun on and off camp by participating in many traditional Main Camp activities as well as a rafting trip on the French Broad, hikes in Dupont and Pisgah, among many other adventures!

One concept that has been a running theme for Young Leaders is Servant Leadership. This concept also happens to be the foundation of our Leadership Team (year round staff, head counselors, and other summer leadership) and thus our greater staff community. The concept of Servant Leadership was popularized by Robert Greenleaf who offers the following definition: A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Greenleaf also states that those under the guidance of servant leaders should become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants.

One way that we cultivate servant leadership with our campers across our Older Programs (mountainside, riverside, young leaders & SITs) is by engaging in service projects. Today, Riverside spend a few hours working on trail maintenance on the GV trail to the Wall Property. This trail is not as heavily used as the trails to the Rock and Connesstee Falls, so every summer we have to do a bit of work to maintain the pathway. All campers who hike this way will benefit from Riverside’s work today! The Young Leaders serve camp daily by setting tables in our dining hall, and today they extended their service to the greater Brevard community by weeding and watering the garden at the local Boys & Girls Club. This is an organization that serves 450 children in Transylvania county, some of whom are also campers at Gwynn Valley. The Boys & Girls Club garden is both an educational and recreational opportunity for their kids; additionally it provides produce for the families who send their children to the Boys & Girls Club.

Stay tuned for more stories of fun, leadership and service in the coming days!

Blacksmithing, Mill Cookery and Good Counseling!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Another hot and sunny day here at camp and everyone is taking advantage of the shade and water.  We’re slathering on the sunscreen and drinking lots of water to keep everyone cool.  While we feel it’s hot for this time of the year it was only 86 in Brevard.  Camp temps are always a couple of degrees lower out here than in town.

In spite of the heat we’ve got two activities that are heat oriented.  Something we’ve never done before is Blacksmithing, which is operating up near the Mountainside creek because they need the cool water from the stream.  Scotty is teaching Blacksmithing at camp this year and has 4 campers per hour.  Scotty is only here for B session this summer, so those in this session are getting a rare treat.  It’s nice to have an activity that is so primitive in its origins.  It certainly harkens way way back before even the Mill was built in 1890. I’m sure there was a blacksmith involved in helping to create many of the metal parts that the Mill used.    The camper’s who took the morning Discovery are working toward more than one project while those that sign-up for the afternoons are getting a project done in an hour.  It’s been a great new activity and everyone’s talking about it.  I suppose the down side is that you have to be 10 and up.  I’m sure you’ve seen some of the photos over the past few days.   Scotty uses a propane furnace to heat the metal instead of coke or coal.  It burns much cleaner and hotter and you don’t breath the smoke from the aforementioned.  The campers have made a variety of things to use and wear – Candleholders to hooks for the wall.

The other activity that’s getting lots of action is a GV staple and that’s the Mill.  Cathy is running the Mill this year and her history in food carries it to a different level.  She was a camper here many years ago and her mother and father have worked at camp for quite some time.  Cathy and her husband ran the West End Bakery in Asheville for many years.  The recently sold the bakery and we recruited her to work at camp this summer.  She brings a whole different level of outdoor cooking to the Mill.  A couple of days ago she and campers made two dutch ovens full of blueberry cobbler.  Today it was zucchini bread over the fire.  Both were out of this world.  Beside the milling, catching fish and making ice cream off the water powered wheel, the world of pioneer cooking has been revived by her presence and enthusiasm.

It’s so nice to have such a diverse staff.  One of our counselors hails from Denmark and she taught a new game today for sign-ups called HOVDINGEBOLD.  I can’t even begin to help you with the pronunciation.  It’s akin to our dodgeball game but with a whole different strategy and set of rules.  I can see how it would be a great camp game, slightly competitive and just on the edge of our limits there.  It’s pretty fast paced and all that participated today loved it.  The balls are very soft and you don’t need a big area to play in.

As mentioned earlier in the session our staff are our greatest asset with the exception of your children.  We do our best to partner with you to make camp an extension of your home and the ideals you want to set for your children while here.  I mentioned in an earlier piece that being a consistent disciplinarian  and how the Golden Rule reigns at camp.

Also very important is being available for talk time, because children need to have conversation just as much as we do.  Listening is critical here and after listening, passing along information that may be of help here or at home.   The conversation could range from favorite ice cream flavors to asking about their most memorable vacation and where they’ve traveled.  Children also need to know their opinions count and in so doing our staff learn even more about their personality.  At camp we have talk time every night in the cabin after campfire and it’s called friendship circle.  While this is a much more organized way to get a feel for the camper’s day, any cabin time should be talk time.  Meal time is another great talk time.  Many years ago when I worked for Outward Bound we started our 21 day course with six days on the Deschutes River in Oregon.  As the two staff leading the trip we paddled the oar/equipment boat and the students paddled the 4 person rafts (usually three rafts per group).  Each day we would spend time taking one student at a time on the oar raft to just talk and get to know that person better.  By the time our river component ended we as staff had really benefited from that special time bonding with our students and it made a huge impact on the rest of our course.

Set a good example – Much of what our staff do at camp is watched and followed closely by the children.  What they say, how they treat one another, how they dress, what words they choose, and most everything they do.   Campers might not seem to be paying attention or watching our staff but they are, from up close and afar.  Good behavior is expected here and our staff are an extension of you the parent at home.  I challenge my staff and ask, would you make that comment if the parent were standing there next to you or if I was standing there next to you.

Lastly, our staff unplug in the presence of campers and during the activity times when children are around.  Phones, tablets and ipods cannot be used in the cabin and only have restricted use in certain parts of camp at certain times.  You will not see a counselor talking on their cell phone as they stroll through camp.  Children need to see that their counselors are not dominated by electronic devices but are users of other equipment at camp like bikes, pottery wheels, carabiners, horse reins, bows, and a gentle touch given to a baby farm animal.

It’s not a perfect world and we strive to do our best.  We start preparing by sending our staff these value based messages in preparation for entering our child oriented world early in the Spring.  When staff training comes in late May, we re-emphasize the importance of the simple joys of childhood and why their role as a camp counselor is so important.  In the end I see that children really remember their counselors more than anything else at camp.  They may have had fun on the climbing wall but it was that counselor who talked them through the difficult section and praised their resilience for getting to the top.  That memory is what I call creating “Camp DNA” or good camp memories.  Our staff play the vital role in that Camp DNA.  We strive to partner with parents in creating the best possible camp experience that we can have here at Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!

Ice Cream Makes Any Day a Great Day!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s been another great day at camp.   With the good weather we hit the trails at GV going in all directions by foot, hoof and bike.  Campers from all over camp traversed our many trails as well as walked the creeks and hiked to Connestee Falls to cool off and swim.  I met our mountain bikers this afternoon on the long trail above camp which can be hiked, run, horse ridden or mountain biked.  It’s suitable for all four.  There were beautiful scarves being made in Arts and Crafts this afternoon as I walked past coming from the upper reaches of camp.  They were out drying in the sun and were colorful and varied in design.  It was hard to leave the Mill area today because ice cream was being made by campers in the PM and it was the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon.  Cookie dough flavor was on tap today.  There will be a variety of flavors on hand for the upcoming Tajar Ball next week.   Our kayakers are getting ready for a river trip which will happen next week.  You’ll see two kinds of kayaks at GV.  The sit-on-tops are easy to paddle and maintain a straight line with little effort and even the smallest camper can paddle them.  The whitewater kayaks are hard to keep in a straight line and if you turn over you have to either roll it back up or wet exit which is what they are working on now.   Those who feel comfortable with their wet exits and have learned to handle their boats on the lake will be going off site for a trip, most likely to the French Broad which is in our backyard.  The end of the session we’ll have a trip to the Green River which is about an hour away and is a little bigger water.

Because of the weather, the waterfront was a popular place today.  There is someone almost always on the zip line when the waterfront is open.  It’s a great ride and everyone’s challenge is to perform a spiderman (hanging upside down) while zipping.  Harder than it looks!  We’ll try and get some photos.  A new component to the lake this summer is the rope swing which has been fun.  We are working on having the Tension Traverse back up and running soon.  It’s just a few inches over the water and you walk the cable holding on to a long rope that is attached to the top of the rope swing.   The farther out you get the more difficult it is and very few campers or staff have made it all the way to the opposite bank.  I’m sure there will be a line to take a shot at the Traverse.

Remaining in the water world, we’re catching lots of fish down at the Mill.  We should be having a fish fry soon.  Soccer and archery rounded out the morning on the sports pitch.  There’s at least one soccer game every day at camp and more often there’s more than one.  After all it is the world’s #1 sport (behind ACC Basketball).  Some campers are still wearing their Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirts and are still celebrating their big win earlier this week.  Pottery, while not a sport does take a fair amount of coordination.  I’ve been in camping a long time and haven’t yet been able to master the proper throwing of a pot on the wheel. I suppose it takes practice just like everything else. That being said there were lots of pinch pots and slab pots being made today, which is what I need to stick to.

The Riversiders came home today after 4 days of paddling.  They ended their paddling component on the Nantahala, a swift and cold river about two hours from here.  The year round temperature of the water hovers around 48 – 50 degrees.  They had a great day on the river hitting lots of eddies and playing in spots that welcome a boat to a surfable wave.  Everyone has showered and eaten and I’m sure they will sleep like tired puppies tonight.   We also welcomed a new batch of Mountainsider’s today and they had their intro skits tonight.  Tonight’s Main Camp campfire was dancing for Brookside and Tajar Tales for Hillside.  Brookside danced with Debbie playing the 88’s and me calling and ending our session with a Virginia Reel.

At camp, some kids practice sports, some practice instruments, and some practice their belly flops.  One thing that ALL campers practice is independence!  Gwynn Valley provides a nurturing and safe environment for kids to face challenges on their own, and that can be incredibly constructive to a child’s character, resilience and grit.  Author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, put it this way: “I think camp is the best emotional preparation for a successful college experience, because you practice being on your own, keeping track of your clothes; you practice living in a community and getting along with roommates you don’t always like — all of the skills you need for true independence.”

When campers can draw upon an experience of overcoming a challenge on their own, it gives them a positive memory to draw from when facing future obstacles; say, preparing for that really big math test or interviewing for that first job.  Camp provides a world of good, each and every day here at GV.  Stay tuned!

PS  We’ve just uploaded a short video for your enjoyment and should have another ready tomorrow. Look for it on the Campminder site where you see pictures.

Challenge by Choice and More!

Dear Parents and Friends,

We just finished our first International Day of the summer and celebrated England.  Of course this morning we had a royal visit from the Queen to announce this was a special day at GV.  Her highness was elegantly clothed and instead of her usual hat she wore her crown.  All three meals today reflected our counselors from England and their favorite foods.  Beans on toast with eggs for breakfast;  beef pie and vegetables  and salad for lunch and fish and chips for dinner this evening.  To top it off there was apple crumble and whipped cream for dessert.  More about our campfire later.

Today I was privileged to go to two morning activities: Camping Skills and Nature.  Camping skills is working this week to perfect their fire building skills and they are well on their way.  First out of the gate was to get everyone to make a Firestarter using wax and dryer lint.  Then it was off to the shelter to test their starters and build a fire to cook apples on a stick with cinnamon and sugar.  Success was had by all and the apples were delicious.  Next it was on to Nature with Gus and Austin where they worked with campers on the start of a project to build bird feeders.  There were some great designs.  After that I stopped by pottery and the Mill to see what was going on there.

After lunch and afternoon activity time,  I perched myself inside the climbing tower to take photos and video of our campers who had signed up for climbing this afternoon.  Climbing is a great activity at camp and probably most of us have an aversion to heights.  It’s a great way to test our limits and see what we can achieve.  There’s a great deal of trust that is developed between the belayer (counselor) and the climber.  While physical safety is what we think about when we climb there’s also the emotional safety aspect that is critical as well.   There’s also the psychological risk and the social risk.  The psychological risk is the fear of falling.   To help alleviate some of the trepidation, our staff talks about strength of the harness, rope and all the equipment we use in climbing activities.   We want to appeal to their rational side and perhaps let them all pull on a rope and test it in their own way.  We talk with them about kilonewtons, which is how equipment is rated.

Sometimes emotion is much more powerful  than rationale.  We support the climber through the whole experience.   The more they feel that the belayer is holding them they more they trust.  We get them to lean back in their harness and see that they will not drop if they’re not holding on to the holds on the wall.  This helps to prepare them for the next attempt to possibly go higher or try a harder wall on the tower.   The sociological risk is the fear of failure or ridicule in front of others.   We as staff support each and every endeavor and they will have a chance to try again if they don’t reach the top.  We also teach our campers on the ground to support those who are climbing.  Sometimes your best friend or new friend is your greatest ally in helping you reach the top.  Addressing the psychological fears and the sociological fears is called Challenge by Choice here at camp.  There’s no pressure to reach the top, only encouragement and reassurance.  This approach helps in working with each individual participant to help them set their own goals and set their minds toward “I can vs I can’t”.  I think we learn as much by acknowledging our limits as we do by pushing our limits.  Challenge by choice allows us to know in a good and safe way what we’re really challenged by and expand our comfort levels.

Continuing on an adventure note,  I followed some bikers after climbing today and saw some of the same principles at work in that activity.  Some were more timid with challenging terrain and chose not to tackle some of the trail they were on.  I hope on another day these campers will get to a point to know that staff will spot and help them through a difficult maneuver on unfamiliar ground.

Campfire as promised was a trip down musical memory lane with our campers and staff reeling off some famous English bands and ballads by the Beatles, Spice Girls, One Direction and others.  Of course Simon Cowell was there along with the Queen to set the tone this evening and keep brash Simon in his place.  Our days are full here and there’s no way to describe it all.  I see happy faces all around and know that we are creating great memories here at camp.  Stay tuned and long live the Queen!